Some noteworthy gifts

Times Staff Writer

With cheers and gasps, music students from four Los Angeles city schools greeted a surprise present Thursday at Nightingale Middle School in Cypress Park. Shiny new trumpets, French horns, flutes, clarinets, saxophones and other instruments and accessories were lined up for them on the stage of the school's Arthur C. Brown Auditorium.

The instruments, valued at more than $80,000, were gifts for the schools' music programs donated through an "Inspire the Future" partnership between the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Boston-based Fidelity Investments.

In addition to Nightingale, the recipients were Berendo Middle School, Belmont High School and the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies. Alan Velesquez, 13, a Berendo Middle School student, said he was happy about his new French horn.

"It's so shiny. I can't wait to bring it home. It's easier to play. With mine, I have to press down on the valves this much," he said, gesturing with his fingers. "This one I just have to press lightly."

Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation, a national music education support organization, worked with the two sponsors to find schools in communities underserved in music and the arts and to identify their needs.

New instruments quickly rose to the top of the list.

"There have been times when we have eight clarinet players and only five working clarinets, so kids have had to switch off," said Jennifer Elliot, music director at Nightingale. "This will allow students to have their own instruments without worrying about having to share with someone else."

The students -- 125 from the four schools -- arrived expecting to hear a lecture on music education. Instead, Bill O'Dell, Los Angeles branch manager for Fidelity, sprang the surprise on them.

As they reverently put their hands on the instruments, the stage filled quickly with sounds of a snare drum, a young trumpeter playing "Carol of the Bells," clarinet and saxophone riffs and lots of laughs, giggles and chatter.

"It's better than mine," said Nightingale student Gabriel Guttierez, 12, tightly holding a new clarinet.

The Philharmonic has a partners program with the four schools. "Our musicians go right into the schools to work with the kids," said Deborah Borda, president of the Philharmonic Assn. "Plus, we work with the teachers and with the families. Education is an absolutely crucial component of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's strategic and long-range plans."

In addition to the Philharmonic, Fidelity also has partnered with the Chicago Symphony, Houston Symphony and Boston Pops Orchestra through its "Inspire the Future" program, distributing more than $300,000 in new music instruments, according to Jennifer Brown, executive vice president of corporate affairs.

"Every year we've been struggling and trying to find ways to build the program and keep it growing," said Nightingale's Elliot. "This gift is significant. It will give us the opportunity to put on outstanding performances for our school, their families and the community and lead our students to a lifelong love for the arts."

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